SPYING A SEA OTTER... out in the waves beyond Monterey or near Big Sur is akin to feeling as though you've won some sort of life lottery. And you really have: Connecting with nature always goes under the "life lottery" heading. And while each outdoors lover will have a different list as to what makes their heart truly burst with happiness, pretty much everyone has a deeply soft spot for the sea otters off the coast of California. They are, after all, not found off the entire coast -- Monterey Bay Aquarium lists their general range as a "south of Half Moon Bay to south of Point Conception," which means you should be near the shore, somewhere along here, with keen eyes and a patient will, to see the back-floating, whisker-faced, abalone-craving wonders. That fairly short distance is a reminder that the planet is not flush with this species, and it was only a century ago that sea otters were in danger of total extinction. There are, however, institutions that work daily to protect the sea otter and promote its importance, and there are moments like Sea Otter Awareness Week. We're pretty sure the sea otters don't have the Sept. 20 through 26 event on their tiny calendars -- we picture the calendars inside abalone shells, of course -- but we humans can celebrate and enjoy them in a multitude of ways.
MONTEREY BAY AQUARIUM... is a popular choice for a sea otter sighting, both outside the Cannery Row institution and near the front entrance (where fans start to gather for feeding time demos well ahead of the demo's appointed time). Several other Golden State spots will observe the week in different ways, from the California Academy of Sciences to the Santa Barbara Sea Center. Of course, you always plant yourself somewhere around 17 Mile Drive -- somewhere around Fan Shell Beach, perhaps -- or near Fisherman's Wharf in Monterey and keep steady watch. Along with the seals and the gulls and the cormorants, the sweet sea otter does make a cameo now and then. And yay to that -- our continued work, and moments like Sea Otter Awareness Week, keeps the furry ones' numbers on the up and up.